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KU Junior Conducts Groundbreaking Research on Autoimmune Disorders

April 16, 2014

KUTZTOWN, Pa. - Ryan Kohn, a junior biology major at Kutztown University, was awarded a $1,500 Carole and Ray Neag Undergraduate Research Grant to obtain scientific equipment that will allow him to research macrophages and protein inhibition. Kohn specializes in molecular, micro and cell biology.

Macrophages are a subset of white blood cells. Their role in the immune system is to recognize foreign particles, such as bacteria, ingest them, and present part of the bacteria on its cell surface, so that other immune cells can recognize the bacteria and begin producing antibodies to fight the infection. Macrophages need to be flexible, in order to surround bacteria. Changes in their cytoskeleton make this possible.

Kohn is currently investigating the RhoH protein, which inhibits other proteins. Most autoimmune disorders are caused by a misregulation of the proteins that trigger changes in the cytoskeleton. In these cases, RhoH, the protein inhibitor, may be the problem.

Kohn and Dr. Angelika Antoni, KU associate professor of biology,  are trying to ascertain whether it is possible to cause the level of RhoH to drop in normal cells. Then, they would be able to determine whether lowering levels of RhoH in patients with autoimmune issues will lead to greater macrophage regulating, and possible treatments.

Last year, Kohn enrolled in an immunology course with Antoni, who specializes in immunology and cancer biology. As they conducted research on a related project, he generated the hypothesis for his current research. This summer, he will spend ten weeks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to conduct research in molecular biology. Kohn is one of 26 students from all over the world who were selected to participate in MIT's summer research program. At KU, Kohn is a mentor for new and transfer students, president of the Biology International Club, and a member of the Health Careers Society and Kutztown Women in Science.

He will present research on immunology at the American Association of Immunologists conference this May, and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology after graduation.